NyQuil and Macinex, native tribes and early American settlers had their own “weapons” against cold and flu treatments— Native American Herbs.
The “New World” was full of unfamiliar plants, many of the people that came over the ocean had no idea about the healing potential of the Native American Herbs that were growing around them. But the conventional medicine they had wasn’t really doing a great job. So in the early 1800s, when people choice of medicine was between mercury, bloodletting and strychnine, often the best course of action was doing nothing at all.
Samuel Thomason—a poor, uneducated farm laborer from New Hampshire—offered ailing Americans some home grown medicine that they could use for healing. Thomson made an unique system of medicine utilizing few of the Native American Herbs, and then his method quickly spread across the American frontier. By 1840, the Thompsonian method was adopted by as many as five million Americans.
On of the top Native American Herbs —lobelia —had long been used by the Wampanoag, Cherokee, and Penobscot tribes, but was practically unknown to white folks. Thompson had discovered the undeniable effects of the herb as a child when he used it to prank friends (at high doses, users discover the secret of its folk name: pukeweed). Thomson used lobelia for a wide variety of ailments, but also found it effective in colds, and fevers. Lobelia clears the lungs and promotes the expectoration of mucus.
Today, lobelia is widely available in pills and tinctures.
Cayenne pepper, which Thompson called “one of the safest and best articles ever discovered to remove disease.” He discovered cayenne while at Massachusetts, and immediately realized its value in healing.
Unlike many other Native American Herbs, cayenne’s effects are felt immediately. Within seconds, its unmistakable heat drains sinuses, improves circulation, and clears congestion. While pills and tinctures are available, cayenne added to meals soon helps stuffy noses breathe clear.
Goldenseal was another herb popularized by Thomson, but by 1910 this popularity had nearly picked the plant to extinction.
Often used in large doses as a natural antibiotic, herbalist Matthew Wood cautions that this is “not a holistic use of the plant.” According to Wood in the New World edition of his “The Earthwise Herbal” (2009), killing bacteria without changing the conditions that led to their appearance is “not competent practice.” Wood’s suggestion: use goldenseal in small doses to tonify the mucous membranes, and remove “the propensity for bacteria to flourish.”
Goldenseal can be used for head congestion and sore throat. Administer small doses (a few drops). This is not only better for the patient, but for the plant as well. A native to the American Midwest, in some states goldenseal has become an endangered species.
An important plant to the Great Plains Indians, echinacea came to prominence in the late 1800s, and has soared in popularity over the last few decades as an immunity booster. But according to bio-chemist turned herbalist Kerry Bone, there are many misconceptions of how echinacea actually affects the immune system.
According to Bone—co-founder and research director at MediHerb—echinacea works best as a preventative, or in the very early stages of an infection.
Another misconception about echinacea: you can only use it for a short period of time. Bone advocates taking echinacea as part of a daily regimen to ward off infections, and suggests Echinacea angustifolia (the variety used by native healers), rather than the significantly less potent but easy to grow Echincea purpurea.
For our last herb we move out West, far from where Thomson would have roamed. During the influenza epidemic of the early 1920s, the medical community discovered that whites and Indians in Nevada fared far better than the rest of the country. Their secret weapon: lomatium root.
Lomatium has long served as a medicine and food to the Great Basin tribes. The root, available in tinctures and pills, can address minor head colds and lessen the severity and duration of strong respiratory infections.